Shenzhou 13 | Long March 2F

Lift Off Time
October 15, 2021 – 16:23 UTC
October 16, 2021 – 00:23 BJT
Mission Name
Shenzhou 13
Launch Provider
(What rocket company launched it?)
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)
Customer
(Who paid for this?)
China National Space Administration (CNSA)
Rocket
Long March 2F
Launch Location
LA-4/SLS-1, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gobi Desert, China
Payload mass
Up to 8,400 kg (18,500 lb)
Where did the spacecraft go?
The Tianhe module of the Tiangong Space Station, Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) – 370 km (230 mi), at a 41.0° inclination
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
No, the Long March 2F is not capable of recovery
Where did the first stage land?
It crashed into the ocean
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
No, the Long March 2F is not capable of recovery
Are these fairings new?
Yes
This was the:
– 8th crewed Chinese spaceflight
– 8th crewed flight in the Shenzhou program
– 13th flight of a Shenzhou spacecraft
– 16th launch of a Long March 2F rocket
– 98th orbital launch attempt of 2021
Where to watch
Official replay with commentary in English

How did it go?

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) successfully launched the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft atop a Long March 2F rocket, carrying three People’s Liberation Army Astronaut Corps (PLAAC) taikonauts to the first module of the Tiangong Space Station, the Tianhe core cabin module (CCM).

After the rocket lifted off at 16:23 UTC, the spacecraft made a fast and automatic rendezvous and docking to the Tiangong, just 6 hours 33 minutes later, at 22:56 UTC. The crew then entered the Tianhe module at 1:58 UTC. This was the second crewed launch to China’s new space station and the first mission set to last six months.

Long March 2F (Credit: Xinhua)

What is the Shenzhou 13 mission?

Shenzhou 13 is the second crewed mission to the Tianhe CCM, the first module of the China’s Tiangong Space Station, which is currently under construction in LEO. The CNSA announced the names of the three crew members, commander Zhai Zhigang, and operators Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, in a press conference the day before liftoff. Wang will become the first female astronaut to visit the space station. This mission is scheduled to last six months, compared to the previous crewed mission duration being 90 days, which will make this the longest Chinese human spaceflight.

A few of the key goals of the mission will be:

  • Using the stations robotic arm to dock the Wentian and Mengtian experiment modules once they arrive.
  • To perform two or three EVAs.
  • To conduct space medicine and physics experiments.
  • Science outreach.
  • Verification of the stations life support systems.

This Shenzhou 13 mission follows the launch of the second cargo resupply mission, the Tianzhou 3, on September 20, 2021, which carried ~5,600 kg (12,346 lb) of cargo to the Tianhe CCM. The spacecraft delivered supplies for the upcoming crewed mission, including replacement parts for the stations urine treatment system, propellant to continue autonomously refueling and maintaining the module’s orbital altitude, and a spacesuit for future spacewalks.

Meet the crew

Commander: Zhai Zhigang

Zhai Zhigang is a PLAAC taikonaut, born on October 10, 1966 in Qiqihar, in the Heilongjiang Province of China.

Before becoming a taikonaut, Zhai was a fighter pilot and squadron leader in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). In 1996, Zhai was selected to take part in a trial of the taikonaut program, and then in 1998 he was officially selected to be a member of the first group of 14 taikonauts.

Zhai previously flew on the Shenzhou 7 mission, as a member of the first three person crew for China. On this mission he made history becoming the first Chinese citizen to perform an EVA, as he spent 22 minutes outside of the spacecraft.

Operator: Wang Yaping

PLAAC taikonaut Wang Yaping was born on January 27, 1980 in the Shandong Province of China. Wang joined PLAAF in 1997, becoming the seventh female military pilot in China. Wang was then selected as the one of the first female PLAAC taikonauts, second only to Liu Yang.

Wang first flew on the Shenzhou 10 mission in 2013, making her the second Chinese woman in space. The mission visited China’s first space station, the Tiangong-1, where they stayed docked for 12 days. During the mission, Wang performed an on orbit physics lecture to more than 60 million Chinese students, which is something we can expect to see again on the upcoming mission as part of the missions science outreach objective.

Operator: Ye Guangfu

PLAAC taikonaut Ye Guangfu was born in 1980 in the Sichuan province of China. Ye previously worked, amassing 1100 hours of flight time. Ye was selected for PLAAC taikonaut training in 2010, and graduated in 2014.

Ye was a member of the backup crew for the Shenzhou 12 mission, and the Shenzhou 13 mission will be Ye’s first spaceflight.

Ye is also a ‘cavenaut’, having participated in the ESA’s underground astronaut training course, CAVES, in June 2016. He worked alongside an international group of astronauts, including JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide who is currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, who will soon launch to the ISS as a member of SpaceX Crew-3.

The Shenzhou spacecraft

The Shenzhou spacecraft (meaning “divine vessel”) is largely comparable to the Soyuz in its design and technology; although the Shenzhou is substantially bigger at 9.25 x 2.8 m. The spacecraft’s maiden flight was on November 19, 1999, and it’s first crewed launch was the Shenzhou 5, which launched October 15, 2003, making China the 3rd country to demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities.

The spacecraft has three modules: a forward orbital module, a reentry capsule in the middle, and an aft service module. The orbital module has room to store experiments and equipment, and is a space for in-orbit habitation. The reentry module is the middle section of the spacecraft. This is where the crew sits for lift off and reentry, and is the only part of the vehicle which makes it back to Earth. The service module holds the life support and equipment needed for the Shenzhou to function. The spacecraft also has two sets of solar panels, with a total area of 40 m2 (430 ft²). One pair is found on the service module, and the other on the orbital module.

The Shenzhou 12 crew training to fly the Shenzhou spacecraft (Credit: Xinhua)

The Tiangong Space Station

The Tiangong Space Station (meaning “heavenly palace”) is a space station currently under construction in LEO. When complete the station will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the of the International Space Station. Construction began on April 29, 2021, when the core module, the Tianhe, which is able to accommodate three crew members with a built-in life support system, was launched on a Long March 5B rocket. The construction of the Tiangong is based on China’s two previous prototype space stations, the Tiangong-1 and the Tiangong-2.

The Shenzhou 13 mission is the fifth of 11 launches planned across 2021-2022 to construct the station, which will include 3 module launches, 4 cargo spacecraft, and 4 crewed missions. When complete, the station will be comprised of three modules, though it has the ability to expand to 6, and it is expected to be operational for at least 10 years.

The crew of the Shenzhou 12 inside the Tianhe CCM (Credit: CGTN)

What is the Long March 2F?

The Long March 2F, also known as the “Shenjian,” meaning “Divine Arrow,” is a Chinese rocket and member of the Long March 2 rocket family. Designed to launch the Shenzhou spacecraft, the Long March 2F is the human-rated, two stage version of the Long March 2E rocket. The 2F is externally similar to the 2E, with main change being the inclusion of a launch escape system. There are also some structural changes which allow the 2F to support the heavier fairing required by the Shenzhou capsule. The 2F is also capable of carrying heavier payloads thanks to the additional boosters on the first stage.

The Long March 2F on the launch pad (Credit: Xinhua)

Boosters

The Long March 2F has 4 boosters, each of which are 15.3 m (50 ft) in length, and each with one YF-20B engine. The YF-20B burns dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4 ) and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) in a gas generator cycle. The boosters have a burn time of 128 seconds, and a specific impulse (ISP) of 291 s. Collectively the boosters produce 3,256 kN (732,000 lbf) of thrust at lift off.

First Stage

The first stage of the Long March 2F is 23.7 m (78 ft) in length and 3.4 m (11 ft) in diameter. Just like the boosters, this stage has four YF-20B engines, burning N2O4 and UDMH. This stage has a burn time of 166 seconds, and an ISP of 291 s.

Second Stage

The second stage is powered by a single YF-24B engine module, comprising a YF-22B engine and a YF-23B vernier, which again runs on N2O4 and UDMH. The stage is 13.5 m (44 ft) in length and 3.4 m (11 ft) in diameter, and provides 831 kN (187,000 lbf) of thrust. This stage has an ISP of 289 s, and will burn for approximately 300 seconds.

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